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August 20, 2012

Two Villages, Missing Their Idiots

Exhibit One:

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

A few points: pregnancy resulting from rape may be less common than pregnancy resulting from consensual sex - we're not sure. We've heard that many rapist never manage to complete the deed, so to speak. But rare? Define "rare", Senator.

And from the Anchorage, Alaska Daily News, exhibit two:

Somewhere in Delaware, a sleepy village finds itself without an idiot as Vice President Joe Biden again is on the loose, tilting at presidential windmills.

Known in some circles as the Galloping Gaffe, Biden is Romney's second-best secret weapon, with President Barack Obama being the first. Unfortunately for Romney, Biden clearly is becoming a mouthy liability for the Democrats as he fumbles to focus the public's attention on anything but the broken economy.

His latest craziness? Biden told Virginia voters that Mitt Romney's policies would put "you all back in chains" by letting "the big banks once again write their own rules," the Wall Street Journal reported. Biden was referring to Romney's desire to roll back 2,300 pages of inane Wall Street "reform" foisted on America by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., -- the uberbrilliant architects of the U.S. housing disaster.

The Virginia crowd -- uh-oh! -- included black supporters, and Biden's remarks immediately sparked a heated ancillary debate about whether he was being stupid or engaging in casual, but calculated, race-baiting. "It's far from clear that he misspoke," the Christian Science Monitor said.

The Romney campaign was smokin' hot, accusing Biden of hitting a "new low," apparently forgetting it was dealing with Chicago thug gutter politics.

Biden's goofiness did not -- could not -- stop with his chain rattling. "With you -- and I mean this -- with you, we can win North Carolina again," he assured the Virginia crowd. Huh? Go figure. (The guy is on crack. I swear. Somebody called me and told me, but I'm not supposed to say who.)

The truth is, Biden and the Obama apparatchik cannot stop. They even have stooped to hinting Romney evaded his taxes for 10 years (untrue), accused him of causing some guy's wife to die from cancer (untrue) and -- gasp! -- revealed he is rich.

We normally don't link to these kinds of pieces, but this one was just too funny to pass up.

Posted by Cassandra at August 20, 2012 07:13 AM

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One or the other, either Obama or hair plugs, have to take responsibility for Joe Biden's present condition.

Posted by: George Pal at August 20, 2012 10:10 AM

When I was reading about the Akin thing, well I knew there was a facepalm moment ready to happen. Even the most charitable interpretation of what he was trying to say leads to a bad ending.

32%, huh? I would have never expected the number to be that high of women who kept the children.

As for Joe Biden, what can you really say about ol' Joe. What I find funny, is that when the republican VP candidate is considered it's always in relationship to the presidency. I suppose you have to, considering what you have to work with.

Posted by: Allen at August 20, 2012 11:19 AM

Oh, that Akin business. He needs to be drummed out of the party. There are few things that piss me off more than a prominent GOP member playing to that kind of blockheaded stereotype. Nobody would ever miss him; he's a social conservative (of the idiot variety) with no fiscal principles at all. An earmarker.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 20, 2012 12:12 PM

To some degree this is about what people want to believe is true.

As a mental exercise, pretend you were a pro-life physician (such as Akin's alleged source), and thus wanted to believe that the female body had natural defenses against unwanted pregnancy from rape. Now, from that perspective, read those numbers the other way: of rape victims, 95.0% do not conceive; of those who do conceive, 11.8% spontaneously abort the child. Thus, the same study could be read to demonstrate a failure rate from natural causes above ninety-five percent.

Is a 95%+ failure rate from natural causes evidence for or against Akin's position? I suppose it would have to depend on the comparable failure rate for single-incidence unprotected sex; but I've seen wildly divergent numbers looking around at that this morning. Some argue that the rate is 2.5% (which would make rape twice as effective as a means of creating a pregnancy, completely destroying the argument of Akin's physician buddies); others say it is as high as 25% if the couple suffers from no other infertility issues (which would seem to suggest that there might be something to the position Akin's physician is advocating: the rate is only 1/5th that of other kinds of sex, which is to say that there are 80% fewer pregnancies resulting).

It's clear that it would be wrong to say that pregnancy cannot or does not result from rape; but that wasn't the claim. What's not clear how wrong his doctor is about the probabilities. Do you have better numbers than I've been able to find?

(The real issue, of course, is that all of this is actually irrelevant to the debate: Akin opposes abortion in cases of rape regardless of how likely pregnancy happens to be, and so do the doctors. The issue is that they believe the child is a child, and ought not to be killed because of the sins of the father. This kind of comforting belief thus proves to be a red herring from the actual issue; it doesn't really matter to their position whether it's true or not. All the same, it might be a useful exercise in trying to sort out how true or untrue the claim actually is.)

Posted by: Grim at August 20, 2012 12:14 PM

"The issue is that they believe the child is a child..". When is a child not a child? When the child is conceived via rape? Magically not a child then? I really don't get that rationale.

Posted by: nan at August 20, 2012 02:32 PM

I agree, nan, although I don't think that's the real issue here.

By the way, Cass, the paper you cited states that "The national rape-related pregnancy rate is 5.0% per rape among victims of reproductive age (aged 12 to 45); among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year."

But the FBI crime statistics reported, for 2010 (the most recent year with final numbers): "There were an estimated at 84,767 forcible rapes reported to law enforcement in 2010."

That would put the 32,101 figure closer to fifty percent than five. Something is strange about the math here. A figure around 32,000 would require 640,000 rapes a year to work out to five percent -- that would indicate that the FBI statistics miss almost all the rapes that occur, and that the actual incidence of rape is vastly higher than we believe it to be.

Posted by: Grim at August 20, 2012 05:16 PM

Sorry, here is the link to the FBI crime statistics.

I wonder if the real issue is that people heard Akin's comments to mean 'Women who get pregnant from what they claim to have been rape weren't legitimately raped.' That kind of a statement would fully justify the outrage that seems to be aimed at him. It's not a fair reading of his comments, since they leave room for a minority of cases in which forcible rapes still do lead to pregnancy: but if people take that to be the implication of what he said, then I can understand why people are so angry today.

Posted by: Grim at August 20, 2012 05:20 PM

Aye Chihuahua. Work is going to be the death of me....

When is a child not a child? When the child is conceived via rape? Magically not a child then? I really don't get that rationale.

FWIW, I don't either (and my position is probably best described as reluctantly pro-choice, though I can't stand that term b/c abortion is a bit more complicated than a simple "lifestyle choice").

Abortion either takes a human life or it doesn't. IMO it does, and it is very important to me to recognize that that's true regardless of the "OK, so now what do we do about it" part of the discussion.

Grim, I doubt there are better numbers. That would require that someone track this in an organized way across states with conflicting health and crime reporting systems. I would guess the pregnancy rate from rape to be lower than from consensual sex but not that it is "really rare" (which was his claim). But whether it is rare or not is really quite irrelevant if you happen to be the person who's pregnant and you never had the chance to use birth control b/c you never consented in the first place.

*That's* what bothers me about his comment in the first place. I know you understand this, Grim - just clarifying for the record :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 20, 2012 06:40 PM

"I wonder if the real issue is that people heard Akin's comments to mean 'Women who get pregnant from what they claim to have been rape weren't legitimately raped.'"

Grim, that's what got me. What was the point of even using the word "legitimate" wrt rape? I am reminded of the hue and cry after this Liberal clarification of rape hit the air.
Oh, wait.....

Posted by: DL Sly at August 20, 2012 07:10 PM

FWIW, I think the comment was objectionable even without the "legitimate" (according to whom?) part.

Is Akin a doctor? If you're going to claim some kind of knowledge about medical matters (especially if you're citing it to justify public policy), you'd better be able to back it up. This kind of idiocy won't fly:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”


How rare does pregnancy have to be before the government tells a woman who was just raped that the government will prosecute her if she doesn't want to carry the baby to term?

Who gets to decide? Him?

That's what we're really talking about here: not *encouraging* her to choose life, but telling her that her consent was not just irrelevant to her rapist - it's irrelevant to society and government .

I'm sorry, but that's offensive on so many levels that I don't even know where to start.

I might hope a woman in that position would choose not to end a life she never intended to create (and help her do so). I might try to persuade her not to have an abortion. But the use of force/compulsion (and jail/criminal penalties are just that) on someone who has already been victimized once is another thing entirely.

The "legitimate" part was just gratuitous idiocy piled on an already enormous mound of stupid.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 20, 2012 07:31 PM

Akin's "argument" was a sort of Appeal to Invisible Authority thing. Kind of like Harry Reid telling us, "Anonymous Bain sources told me Mitt hasn't paid taxes for years..."

"Trust me".

Posted by: Cassandra at August 20, 2012 07:34 PM


Yeah, she pretty much got away with that one, didn't she? And that was after he'd plied an underage girl with drugs and booze, and proceeded in the face of her explicit rejection.

Hanging's too good for men like that. What to make of women like her, well, evidently they deserve wealth, fame and fortune.


I'm aware of the difficulties with the FBI numbers, which I've dealt with for many years in one way or another; they're admittedly terrible, especially because they're subject to vicious manipulation by local police departments who want to deflate their actual crime rates. Savannah used to classify burglaries as "criminal trespass" to avoid showing up on FBI statistics; Georgia State University used to classify what we might call forcible rape as 'sexual battery' for much the same reason. If you're an urban college campus aimed at nontraditional students who may be taking night classes, it won't due to show up on the FBI crime sheets as a hotbed of rape.

Still, that's quite a delta. I know that statistical manipulation alters the rate to some degree, but here we're talking about difference of nearly an order of magnitude in the statistical claims. (If we're talking about the earlier statistic -- single-sexual-occasions resulting in pregnancy -- the difference really is an order of magnitude.)

It makes it really difficult to evaluate the claim. It's somewhere between "so obviously wrong that only a boneheaded fool could believe it" and "debatable, and possibly correct, though still completely irrelevant to the moral issues at stake."

Posted by: Grim at August 20, 2012 07:38 PM

A figure around 32,000 would require 640,000 rapes a year to work out to five percent -- that would indicate that the FBI statistics miss almost all the rapes that occur, and that the actual incidence of rape is vastly higher than we believe it to be.

As I said before, getting accurate numbers is going to be next to impossible (which is why Akin - and presumably his invisible, but oh-so-reliable Dr. friends - should have kept his yap shut).

The paper I cited clearly states that they are estimating the number of pregnancies, but doesn't say how. Moreover, they don't state the number of pregnancies is their sample of 4008 women. That speaks volumes.

The point of the study was not to establish the rate of pregnancy among women who have been raped. The point of the linked study was to show just how hard it is to establish the rate of pregnancy, and to suggest that if even the experts can't agree/figure it out, Mr. Akin should have seized this golden opportunity to refrain from making an ass of himself. A lawmaker who claims to know - from unnamed sources, no less! - something even experts in the field can't establish is, IMO, not only a pompous ass but a dangerous one as well.

The Harry Reid Method of fact gathering doesn't recommend itself to me, especially in a Republican.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 21, 2012 08:05 AM

Someone running for Senate in such a crucial year might just barely have gotten away with casually remarking, apropos of nothing, that he heard about some interesting and challenging research from some reputable, identified source (not an email from a fringe group using too many capital letters and exclamation marks) concerning a biological process in which a woman's body fights off pregnancy in a crisis.

But frankly I can't think of a context where such a remark would be helpful rather than insanely risky. And considering the furor over abortion law in the context of rape, he'd have to be a drooling idiot to imply that women shouldn't worry so much about whether abortion will be available in the aftermath of rape because hey! There's a magical solution! Especially if she was "legitimately" raped and not just crying wolf, which we'll be able to suss out, you know, because if she gets pregnant, well, then, nod, nod, wink, wink. And if he didn't realize that was the implication of his remarks, he's too dangerous a fool to be running for Senate or to be associated with the GOP.

There are good reasons to believe that rape is not a legitimate exception to a moral prohibition of abortion. There are no good reasons to fantasize that such a position will not be excruciating for the unfortunate women affected by it. Those of us who believe an unborn child shouldn't take the brunt of the horrible crime of rape should at least be aware, and be clearly seen to be aware, what a shocking choice we're forcing on the mother. Breezy idiocy isn't going to cut it.

I'm disgusted that Akin is refusing to withdraw. I'm disgusted that the Missouri primary system couldn't flush him out before this. I'm embarrassed for the entire Republican party. We were doing a good job of moving the campaign onto solid fiscal subjects, and now this. If he were a deliberate plant he couldn't have done a better job of discrediting his party.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 21, 2012 09:48 AM

I'm sorry for your disgust, Tex. I don't mean, by my limited defense, to endorse any part of what I take to the be the message people seem to think he was actually trying to convey -- that is, that women who become pregnant from rape were not 'legitimately' raped. That's a message that certainly deserves outrage, and if I thought he was trying to convey it in any fashion (rather than being guilty of badly phrasing a comment during a live interview) I would join you in being disgusted and angry. No part of that claim deserves any defense whatsoever.

Posted by: Grim at August 21, 2012 11:24 AM

I would not be surprised that some doctors told Akin exactly that. As I understand it, women with high stress have a statistically significant lower rate of pregnancy than other women, and what could be more stressful than rape? This is what I assume was meant.

As for the "legitimate" rape issue, I believe this was a reference to the different definitions, both legal and otherwise, that categorize rape as anything from forcible rape to sexual touching to even regretting having had sex after the fact (as a lot of women's studies programs define it, i.e., "he talked me into it" is a form of rape, according to them).

Posted by: Rex at August 22, 2012 01:06 PM